“I don’t think we can make a good decision about any of this until we address the elephant in the room,” Stokes said, referring to “Stelly” — a politically toxic moniker among many voters.Just to be clear here, when Ellington and Stokes say a thing is "politically toxic," what they mean is their backers and the powerful lobby groups who spend all day schmoozing with them are unhappy with it. But when Stelly went before the actual voters in 2002, it passed by almost 30,000 votes.
The tax design was devised by then-Lake Charles Rep. Vic Stelly and was approved in a statewide 2002 vote. Generally, it lowered sales taxes and paid for it by charging more on personal income taxes.
Gov. Kathleen Blanco rolled Stelly back a little. Gov. Bobby Jindal rolled it back a lot. Both decreased personal income tax collections.
While income tax collections went down, sales taxes stayed low, leaving state government with $800 million to $1 billion less, depending on who is doing the counting, to pay obligations, which also didn’t decline significantly.
As a state senator, Noble Ellington voted for a Stelly rollback. It was politically popular at the time and seemed the right thing to do. Now the administration’s legislative liaison, Ellington says that vote was a mistake.
The Legislature is probably going into special session next month. There, they will have to find the revenue necessary to clean up the mess left in part by the mistake of rolling back Stelly. Let's hope they take up the task with a clearer idea of what is and is not "politically toxic" this time.